Manush heeded Cobb’s advice to become a batting champ and Hall of Famer

Heinie Manush was a popular player in Detroit in the 1920s.

Heinie Manush was a popular player in Detroit in the 1920s.

He is one of the honored names on the brick wall beyond the outfield at Comerica Park. He is a Hall of Famer who hit .321 in his five years with the Detroit Tigers, including a .378 season that won him a batting title. He was a hitting disciple of teammate Ty Cobb, a fellow Southerner with an equally short fuse.

He’s Heinie Manush, one of the most aggressive players ever to don a uniform.

Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama on July 20, 1901, Henry Emmett Manush attended Massey Military Academy in Cornersville, Tennessee. His pro career began in 1920, when he got into six games with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. A solid 1921 campaign with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada League was followed by a monster season with the Western League’s Omaha Buffaloes. In 167 games with Omaha, he banged out 245 hits, with 44 doubles, 20 triples, and 20 home runs, while hitting .376.

That earned a call-up to the Detroit Tigers in 1923. Life wasn’t easy for rookies in those days, as evidenced by the following exchange that Manush liked to recount later in life:

“The time I remember best was my first big league camp, with the Tigers at Augusta in 1923. I was up from the deep bush and I wanted to win a job in the outfield. I found I was up against five guys, and their names were Ty Cobb, Bob Veach, Ira Flagstead, Bob Fothergill, and Harry Heilmann (Incidentally, that group hit .340, .321, .311, .315 and .403, respectively, in 1923.).

“It turned out, at first, I couldn’t even get to take batting practice. I was a kid. And I was anxious to hit. But they wouldn’t let me. Finally, one time when Cobb’s back was turned, Heilmann got sorry for me and he said, ‘Kid, take my turn.’

“I was in there at the plate, but before I could take a lick, Cobb turned and he saw me. He yelled ‘Get the ________ out of there!’”

Soon, however, Cobb took Manush under his wing. The Georgia Peach pulled Manush aside one day and told him he’d be a much better hitter if he choked up on the bat a bit and went with the pitch. Basically, Cobb recommended that Manush mimic his own approach at the plate. Platooning in the outfield with Veach, the young rookie hit .334 in 109 games.

Two frustrating seasons followed, but in 1926 Manush finally found his groove, hitting a league-leading .378. It was a batting race that went down to the final day of the season. Manush went an impressive 6-9 in a doubleheader, overtaking Babe Ruth, along with teammates Fothergill and Heilmann (who both hit .367). It was one of the most dynamic outfield trios in Detroit Tiger history.

It was the best season Manush had in the Motor City. Following the departure of Cobb to the Philadelphia A’s, Manush suddenly found himself without his hitting mentor. He didn’t get along with new Tiger skipper George Moriarty, and slumped to .298.

After the season, Moriarty traded Manush, along with veteran first baseman Lu Blue, to the St. Louis Browns. In exchange, Detroit received pitcher Elam Vangilder, outfielder Harry Rice, and utility infielder Chick Galloway.

The deal seemed good for Detroit at the time, but it goes down as one of the worst the organization ever made. Righthander Vangilder, a former 19 game-winner in St. Louis, went 11-11 in his two seasons in Detroit. Galloway was a solid defensive player and former .300 hitter with Philadelphia. Unfortunately, he played only 53 games for the Tigers before being struck in the head by a wild batting practice pitch that ended his career. Rice had some big years for the Browns, and for Detroit he hit .302 and .304 in 1928 and ’29, respectively. But he lacked extra-base power, and eventually was packaged to the Yankees in the middle of the 1930 campaign for pitcher Waite Hoyte and shortstop Mark Koenig, both aging stars who made little impact during their short stays in Detroit.

And Manush? He only went on to play 12 more seasons in the major leagues for five teams (the Browns, the Washington Senators, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Boston Red Sox). He ended his career with a .330 lifetime batting average on 2,524 hits. Manush always heeded Cobb’s advice to spray the ball to all fields. While he never hit more than 14 home runs in a season, he finished with 491 career doubles and 160 triples, good for a lifetime slugging percentage of .479. He also drove in 1,183 runs and scored 1,287. He helped lead Washington to the World Series in 1933, where they lost to the New York Giants in five games.

After his big league days were over, Manush was a player-manager for several seasons in the minors.

In his retirement, Manush was always willing to offer his opinion on modern-day players. “They seem to swing right through the ball. They haven’t the faintest idea of how to adjust to pitchers. And another thing—If you go into a clubhouse, take a look at the rolls of fat at the beltlines of some of these young players. Even in July they look as if they’re just reporting to spring training. Maybe it’s a lack of pride.”

Manush was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964 by the Veteran’s Committee.

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About Scott Ferkovich

Scott Ferkovich was the editor of Tigers By the Tale: Great Games at Michigan & Trumbull, published by the Society for American Baseball Research. His next book, Motor City Champs: Mickey Cochrane and the 1934-35 Detroit Tigers, will be published by McFarland in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_Ferkovich.